The University of Sydney will dramatically reduce its number of undergraduate degrees, will rethink its research investments and face up to a cultural bias of "old, white males" in positions of power in a bid to unseat Melbourne as the best university in the country.
The vice-chancellor, Michael Spence, has told staff that the next six months will be spent radically overhauling the structure and culture of Australia's oldest university. It will be a contentious time, he concedes, but critical for the future of the institution.
"On most of the league tables, Melbourne still beats us and that is not historically right," Dr Spence said
So now we have another race to to the top, at least as measured by the ubiquitous league tables.
I thought this Monday Forum we might talk about the future of Australia's universities. As always, feel free to go in whatever direction you like, but a few questions to get you started:
- What do you think our university sector might look like in ten year's time?
- What do you think it should look like?
- What is the role of a university in the current environment?
Since I wrote this piece, Sydney University has launched its own planning process.- and here. Read the second link first. The aim seems to be to knock Melbourne of its number one place on the international rankings. Meantime, the University of Adelaide has introduced minimum performance standards based on things such as number of articles published, number of PhD students being supervised, of number of research grants.and satisfaction rankings from students.
As always, you tend to get what you measure assuming, of course, that the targets are achievable in the first place.The competitive pressures placed on Australian universities may increase their standing on the international rankings as measured. But it does also create a certain sameness.There is also a problem in that the things measured may not be the best.
This issue is on my mind at the moment because the University of New England has also launched a strategic planning process and I am thinking of putting in a submission. The University lacks the resources to really play the measurement game so it needs to stand outside the process, to come up with a new approach.
To break away, to attempt to stand outside the rules and measurements on which so much funding depends, is a high risk strategy yet the place really doesn't have a choice. Therein lies the challenge.